The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

Does Adland Know What Innovation Actually Is?

A long time ago, when I first moved to Shanghai, I wrote a post about how I felt China practiced what I called practical creativity.

Now while their has been significant improvement in the attitude towards innovation over the past 7 years – especially in terms of using technology to make life more convenient – the ‘functional’ element of creativity still exists.

Recently I saw another example of this.

Except it’s older than the stuff I used in my original post.

And it’s not true … more a story that grew into legend.

But that aside, it reinforces my point that there seems to be a major difference between the attitude of commercial creativity in the West and the commercial creativity in the East and both could do with taking a bit from each other.

Funny eh?

And while the true story behind the development of the ‘space pen’ is quite different to what is stated in this article [it was more a product of marketing than conquering the universe] the issue it raises is what adland seems to value in creativity.

Would ‘using a pencil’ be seen as successful in industry awards?

Probably not.

Even in Effies, I question if anyone would bestow anything on it other than ridicule.

But the pen might … with the right case study video attached, detailing the struggle to reinvent writing or some other headline worthy statement.

And that bothers me because commercial creativity will always start with the mind and if we ignore that in favor of the eyes and our egos, then we will be walking even further away from developing the ideas that I know we are capable of making that can fundamentally impact culture and commerce.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to try and push what is possible … but when you’re over-engineering a solution for no other reason than trying to win an award, then you should get fists in the face rather than applause.

Maybe Andy was right.

Years ago he told me the reason why judges at awards often favour scam is because it satisfies their ego to be associated with ‘ideas’ that allegedly push what is possible … even if it’s not real or effective.

Which is why most of the ‘innovation’ ideas that are awarded in advertising shows never gets to see the light of day.

Remember Peggy?

I rest my case.

28 Comments so far
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Fantastic post Robert. The advertising industry views creativity very narrowly, often with high production costs being the definer of success. But as you have mentioned many times, execution is often confused with an idea which is why a pencil would never receive the acknowledgement of creativity that a space pen would enjoy.
Hopefully the Fearless Girl statue in Wall Street may alter that perception.

Comment by Lee Hill

dont underestimate the creativity that goes in to execution, that doesnt happen by itsfuckingelf. the problem is that shit is seen as more important than the fucking reason youre doing it and thats where it all goes to bollocks.

Comment by andy@cynic

Fearless Girl is the best bit of communication in years.

Comment by DH

Well, not everyone in the industry thinks that way but I agree that tends to be the collective view of agencies. Of course production adds another layer to the creativity of an idea – but to suggest this is the most essential ingredient is wrong, but it seems to be where most agencies are heading and I wonder if that’s because they recognize the importance of craft or see it as the only area [beyond process management] where they make money.

That said, Fearless Girl is phenomenal and certainly my favourite idea in years. And it is an idea … expertly executed and gaining more awareness than the years Top 3 Hollywood movies combined.

Comment by Rob

fearless girl made me jealous. its been a fucking long time since that fucking happened.

Comment by andy@cynic

Remind me again, which brand was Fearless Girl for?
Nobody ever seems to include a mention of that.

Comment by Ian Gee

See my response to John below.

You’re right of course, but the people they really wanted to know, know … and it wasn’t the mass market, though they played their part in escalating the awareness and value of the idea.

Comment by Rob

now you fucking agree with me campbell.

Comment by andy@cynic

Better late than never Andrew. And it is usually never.

Comment by George

maybe well get the money he stole from us in 1000 fucking years.

Comment by andy@cynic


Comment by Rob

and of course the fucking space pen would win, canned fucking loves scam shit. probably get a fucking platinum.

Comment by andy@cynic

and the pencil could win with the right fucking case study. seen it fucking happen. using a pencil instead of a fucking multi million dollar researched pen is creative but adland likes to make shit. thats not a bad thing to want to do, problem is they like making too much crap shit.

Comment by andy@cynic

I agree with Lee, this is a fantastic post. I am just trying to figure out if that is because of the content or because it made Andrew comment seriously. (and good comments too)

Comment by George

fuck you, my comments are always the fucking bomb.

Comment by andy@cynic

Yesterday, my Twitter feed informed about a panel event where adfolk were gathering to learn how to optimise award entries. The wisdom being offered included “treat it as seriously as you treat your client work”.

Comment by John

big agencies treat awards much fucking more seriously than their client work.

Comment by andy@cynic

Sadly that is true. But it’s also because a lot of network agency ECD’s are evaluated [ie: bonused] on how many awards they win … hence the focus and the scam.

Comment by Rob

That is exactly what happens.

Comment by George

And, of course, the pencil should win. It achieves the same result at no extra cost and therefore is more effective than the space pen but, I’m guessing, judges don’t make those calculations.

Comment by John

I got a space pen one holiday then my brother broke it because he thought it would work underwater.

Comment by DH

Great post Rob, but shouldn’t the title of it be about creativity rather than innovation?

Comment by Pete

Maybe … but they are interlinked, at least where adland is concerned.

Comment by Rob

I was a little surprised by your assertion that Fearless Girl was based on an idea. From the reports at the time, I’d read that it was designed to increase sales of a new investment trustthat had some relationship with women.

I subsequeuently read that enquiries about this had soared in the days after Fearless Girl appeared and so clearly it was a success. What confused me at the time was that the investment managers who buy this stufff are a very small constituency and the viral earned media wasn’t really hitting them.

So I’ve done some more reading and found interviews with the CEO that explained the diversity idea and that this would be emphasised in a big speech he made on Women’s day. So, yes, a good solid idea was there but my question is why wasn’t that mentioned in all the reportage I’d read at the time? Did I just miss it and why did reports focus on it as a slaes campaign when clearly it was much more and more subtle than that?

Comment by John

So hang on, you’re saying Fearless Girl is not based on an idea? But how on earth would you get to that if it wasn’t? I agree with a lot of what you’re saying, but while investment managers may have channels specific to their industry, they haven’t got 2 heads and are as susceptible to broad media as the rest of us.

Comment by Rob

No, I’m saying my original reaction was that it was a very clever and effective PR stunt. I was unaware of the idea behind it until I read the interview with the CEO today

My secondary point was to ask whether I was in the minority in having missed it and now, given you valid comment re investment managers, I’m wondering what you think the aim of this whole thing was? Was it to shift more product as I originally assumed and as people reported after the fact or was it to raise awareness of a deeper issue/ Or both?

Comment by John

I think it was an incredibly clever way to gain unbelievable levels of coverage and awareness for a company and fund under the guise of making very topical statement.

That doesn’t mean they don’t care about gender equality, I believe they do, but I feel their motivations were more than just that.

And it’s brilliant. In terms of idea, execution and placement.

Comment by Rob

Great post, Robert.

Comment by Marcus Brown

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